A group of 15 Dartmouth men’s basketball players became the latest college athletes to pursue unionization this week with a petition to the National Labor Relations Board to join a local union. The “employer” listed with the petition is Dartmouth College/Dartmouth College Board of Trustees, while the union is Service Employees International Union Local 560 based out of Hanover, New Hampshire.
“Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board seeking to represent students on Dartmouth’s men’s basketball team,” Dartmouth College spokesperson Jana Barnello said in a statement to CBS Sports. “We have the utmost respect for our students and for unions generally. We are carefully considering this petition with the aim of responding promptly yet thoughtfully in accordance with Dartmouth’s educational mission and priorities.”
The move comes amid a rapidly changing landscape in college sports that has seen athletes acquire new rights and privileges that were unthinkable for a prior generation of players. Most notably, athletes are now able to profit off of their name, image and likeness (NIL) while retaining their collegiate eligibility. However, efforts to be recognized as employees have met stiff resistance from schools, conferences and the NCAA.
The NCAA is on the defensive as it faces two significant lawsuits regarding athlete compensation: House v. NCAA and Johnson v. NCAA. Those cases and the changing headwinds of college sports have prompted power conference and NCAA leaders to lobby Congress for federal legislation that would govern student-athlete compensation and supersede potential state laws.
“The reality is only Congress can fully address the challenges facing college athletics,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said at media days in July. “The NCAA cannot fix all of these issues. The courts cannot resolve all of these issues. The states cannot resolve all of these issues, nor can the conferences.”
The most famous unionization effort by a group of college athletes came from the Northwestern football team eight years ago, but the petition was ultimately dismissed by the NLRB. A subsequentfrom the NLRB stated that college athletes at private universities should be considered employees, which again for efforts like the one from Dartmouth’s players.